1 Peter – Chapter Three XXXI

by Ed Urzi

“After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits– to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water” (1 Peter 3:19-20 NIV).

Some hold the view that the the imprisoned spirits of 1 Peter 3:19 are associated with the wicked human beings of Noah’s day who perished in the great flood of Genesis chapter six. That represented a time “When the Lord saw that human wickedness was widespread on the earth and that every inclination of the human mind was nothing but evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5 CSB).

If this is accurate, then we are left with two possibilities that emerge from this view. The first is that the preincarnate Christ preached to these individuals through Noah and faithfully testified to the godless of his day. Another (and perhaps more likely) possibility is that Jesus issued a proclamation to those unrighteous individuals following their passing from this life.

In this view, Jesus’ proclamation took place at some point during the interval between His death on the cross and subsequent resurrection. His audience is thus identified as “spirits” because they had passed from their earthly lives and had become inhabitants of the realm of the dead. Since this text informs us that these imprisoned spirits were formerly disobedient, the content of that proclamation likely involved an announcement of Jesus’ triumph over sin and death, or a message of condemnation.

Finally, these is another aspect of this view that involves Jesus’ declaration of salvation to the righteous who had passed from this life. We’ll consider this view more thoroughly when we reach 1 Peter chapter four.

The second possibility regarding the identity of these disobedient spirits involves fallen angels or demonic entities. One commentator offers a summary of this perspective that we will examine in greater detail in our next study. In this view, these demons have been imprisoned…

“…since the time of Noah, and who were sent there because they severely overstepped the bounds of God’s tolerance with their wickedness.

The demons of Noah’s day were running riot through the earth, filling the world with their wicked, vile, anti-God activity, including sexual sin, so that even 120 years of Noah’s preaching, while the ark was being built, could not convince any of the human race beyond the 8 people in Noah’s family to believe in God… Thus God bound these demons permanently in the abyss until their final sentencing.” (1)

(1) John F. MacArthur Jr., The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), 1 Pe 3:20.